Scientists have found evidence that some face masks that are on sale and being used by members of the general public are laced with toxic chemicals.
This includes formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause watery eyes; a burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; wheezing; and nausea.
Evidence obtained by Ecotextile News and shared with MailOnline reveals that although face masks should meet specific standards, not all do.
Masks have been mandated in much of the world as they are a highly effective way of preventing transmission of coronavirus particles.
But face coverings designed for use by the general public are not regulated and fail to meet the same standards as medical grade PPE.
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Experts are concerned that the presence of these chemicals in masks which are being worn for prolonged periods of time could cause unintended health issues. In March, the UK Government issued advice saying children and teachers alike should wear masks in school
Pictured, a GCMS chromatogram of the chemicals and compounds found on a face mask. The data comes from the unique analytical technique developed by Dr Dieter Sedlak
Professor Michael Braungart, director at the Hamburg Environmental Institute, conducted tests on masks which had caused people to break out in rashes.
‘What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste,’ Professor Braungart said.
These used masks were found to contain formaldehyde and other chemicals.
Formaldehyde is the chemical which gives the ‘clean’ smell when a new pack of masks is opened. He also found aniline, a known carcinogen.
‘We found formaldehyde and even aniline and noticed that unknown artificial fragrances were being applied to cover any unpleasant chemical smells from the mask, he said.
‘In the case of the blue-coloured surgical masks, we found cobalt – which can be used as a blue dye.
‘All in all, we have a chemical cocktail in front of our nose and mouth that has never been tested for either toxicity or any long-term effects on health,’ he said.
Professor Michael Braungart, director at the Hamburg Environmental Institute, conducted tests on masks which had caused people to break out in rashes. ‘What we are breathing through our mouth and nose is actually hazardous waste,’ he said
As well as detecting formaldehyde, he spotted clear evidence of hazardous fluorocarbons, which are heavily restricted.
Fluorocarbons are toxic to human health and scientists have recently called for them to be banned for non-essential use.
This group of chemicals was featured in the recent Mark Ruffalo hit film ‘Dark Waters’ where a water supply of an entire town was polluted by chemical giant DuPont.
‘Honestly, I had not expected PFCs would be found in a surgical mask, but we have special routine methods in our labs to detect these chemicals easily and can immediately identify them. This is a big issue,’ said Dr Sedlak.
‘It seems this had been deliberately applied as a fluid repellent – it would work to repel the virus in an aerosol droplet format – but PFC on your face, on your nose, on the mucus membranes, or on the eyes is not good.’
Formaldehyde in face masks causes dermatitis
A 2020 case study of a 38-year-old lab technician.
As part of her job she worked with various chemicals, including formaldehyde.
She did not wear a mask to work but did wear gloves. She began suffering rashes which were itchy and burning.
Doctors determined she was allergic to some of the chemicals.
She then changed jobs and became a hospital nurse.
Her rashes went away rapidly but then when working on a Covid-19 ward in April 2020 the dermatitis returned.
Symptoms flared up ‘a few hours following the prolonged use of a particular polypropylene (‘plastic’) surgical mask.
The researchers and mask manufacturers believe ‘trace impurities of formaldehyde’ in the masks was causing the relapse.
The doctors wrote in their case study: ‘Because formaldehyde is a frequent contact sensitizer, and given that health care workers, patients, and consumers now often have to wear (polypropylene) surgical masks at work and in the public environment, similar cases might be expected in the future.
‘To propose safer alternatives, the contact sensitizers potentially present in facial masks, and related medical devices, should be labelled, or at least be easily retrievable as in the present case.’
Pictured, (A) a nurse, wearing a polypropylene surgical mask, (B) who developed rosacea‐like allergic contact dermatitis from formaldehyde contained in the mask; (C) the positive patch test to formaldehyde revealing her allergy to the chemical
PFCs are commonly used in textiles to add a protective coating to items like rucksacks and jackets, but are not intended to be inhaled.
The concentrations of PFCs found on masks lie within the safe limit of 16 mg/kg, Dr Sedlak found, but when placed on a mask, just millimetres from a person’s mouth, the level of exposure soars past the safe limit over time.
Both the academics say their work is not enough to conclude that all surgical face masks are dangerous or comparable, but believe some masks in circulation are of concern.
‘Based on my practical experience there is certainly an elevated unreasonable risk,’ says Dr Sedlak.
Face coverings designed to be worn by the public are not classed as PPE and therefore are not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as those which are intended for use by medical professionals.
Guidelines for their use and quality is determined by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.
MailOnline has approached BEIS for comment.
Face coverings designed to be worn by the public are not classed as PPE and therefore are not subjected to the same level of scrutiny as those which are intended for use by medical professionals
However, the responsibility for ensuring masks meet the laid out criteria lies with the mask manufacturer and their local authorities.
But instead of having to reach medical grade standards and pass regular quality checks, these coverings only have to meet general safety laws.
‘The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (GPSR) sets out the responsibilities of the producers and distributors of these products,’ the UK government website states.
‘As face coverings are not medical devices, we do not regulate these products.’
China was the world’s leading mask manufacturer before the pandemic, and has solidified this position amid the Covid-19 outbreak, making 85 per cent of all masks.
In the first five months of 2020, for example, over 70,000 new companies registered to make or sell in face masks in China, as companies seek to cash in on the virus.
The boom in demand for such products has led to concerns that masks are being recklessly made, and opaque supply chains in China raise further concerns.
Potentially toxic masks dished out in Canadian schools
Canada last week recalled millions of masks that were distributed to schools, transport workers and daycares by the government.
Health Canada has warned they may be toxic to the lungs after being urged to inspect the safety of the coverings.
The grey and blue masks are identified by the code SNN200642 and are from the supplier Metallifer.
Analysis found evidence of graphene nanoparticles shed by the masks.
If graphene gets into the lungs it can be dangerous as it is highly abrasive and durable, leading to some people saying they felt like they were breathing in cat hair.
Another mask made by another company is also under investigation.
‘Health Canada is currently reviewing data from two manufacturers of graphene-coated face masks to determine the safety and effectiveness of their devices, and will take appropriate action as necessary,’ said Health Canada spokesman André Gagnon.
Millions of masks were distributed in Quebec but people have now been told to ‘immediately store the boxes of masks in a secure and isolated location’.
Belgium gave pharmacists 15 million TOXIC Covid face masks
Health chiefs in Belgium are concerned that 15 million fabric masks given to pharmacists may be toxic and cause pneumonia.
According to a preliminary report carried out by Sciensano, the Belgian Institute for Public Health, the masks contain nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide that when inhaled could damage the respiratory tract.
The face masks were made in Asia by Luxembourg-based company Avrox.
Two toxicologists warned that those who wear the masks could develop pneumonia, according to a report in Dutch-language newspaper HLN.
The nanoparticles of silver and titanium dioxide are used to whiten the fabric of the face masks.
Dr Julian Tang told MailOnline: ‘The use of metal ions may help to inactivate the virus and such ions may be safely, securely embedded in the mask material so that they do not pose an inhalation risk – and this feature/design could be specific to these Belgian masks only.’
But he says more research is needed if there are valid concerns over specific masks.
Dr Julian Tang, a clinical virologist and honorary associate professor in the respiratory sciences department at the University of Leicester, echoed the sentiment of Dr Sedlak and Professor Braungart that more vigorous research is needed.
‘Further studies on specific mask designs need to be performed if there is a perceived possible risk for any particular mask – and masks made by different manufacturers may not pose the same risks – if any exist,’ he said.
He says if people are concerned about their masks, one option is to use professional surgical masks which do have to meet stricter standards.
‘Southeast Asian countries have been using millions of surgical masks since the first SARS-COV-1 outbreaks in 2003 – with no reported ill effects,’ he adds.
‘But even before this, globally, surgical masks have been used in surgery by teams around the world – for decades – with no reported ill effects.’
Liz Cole, co-founder of the Us For Them organisation that advocates for children’s rights, says the findings are particularly concerning for youngsters.
The recent reopening of schools in the UK was dependent on children wearing face coverings for long periods of time, including when walking around the premises and in communal areas.
‘UsforThem are concerned that the recommendations for children to wear face coverings in classrooms seems to be informed by no new scientific evidence nor does any harm assessment appear to have been conducted,’ she said.
‘Given the potential issues of child health and welfare at stake it is imperative that potential harms of face coverings in classrooms be considered and weighed against benefits’.
Face masks are a ‘ticking plastic bomb’: Three MILLION coverings are thrown out every minute and serve as carriers for other toxicants in the environment, experts warn
Three million face masks are discarded every minute as a result of mass adoption during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts warn it could soon lead to environmental catastrophe.
Face coverings are being worn by the majority of individuals around the world in order to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes Covid-19.
However, they pose a greater risk to the environment than carrier bags because of their ubiquity and the fact there is no way to safely decontaminate and recycle them.
They add that littering is causing masks to break down into dangerous microfibres and they may also be carrying harmful chemicals into the environment.
Environmental Toxicologist Elvis Genbo Xu from the University of Southern Denmark and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Zhiyong Jason Ren from Princeton University penned an article on the topic in the journal Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering.
And the conundrum of what to do with the recent deluge of masks truly is a new frontier for scientists, who have never before been faced with such a rapid explosion of a product for which there is no established responsible disposal method.
‘With increasing reports on inappropriate disposal of masks, it is urgent to recognise this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem,’ the researchers warn.
Disposable face masks, although excellent at reducing viral transmission, are tricky when it comes to recycling as they are made from many different materials.
‘The common disposable surgical masks are made of three layers,’ the researchers explain.
‘The outer layer is made up of nonabsorbent material (e.g., polyester) that protects against liquid splashes.
‘The middle layer is non-woven fabrics (e. g., polypropylene and polystyrene) created using a meltblowing process, which prevents droplets and aerosols via an electrostatic effect.
‘The inner layer is made of absorbent material like cotton to absorb vapour.’